Resilience - 5 Strategies to Build Resilience

WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG, DO YOU TEND TO BOUNCE BACK OR FALL APART?

When you have resilience, you harness inner strength that helps you rebound from a setback or challenge, such as a job loss, an illness, a disaster or the death of a loved one. If you lack resilience, you might dwell on problems, feel victimised, become overwhelmed or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as over eating, a few too many drinks or other more damaging choices. Resilience won't make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress. If you aren't as resilient as you'd like to be, you can develop skills to become more resilient.

Even for the relatively self-aware and emotionally adept, struggles can take us by surprise. But learning healthy ways to move through adversity—a collection of skills that researchers call resilience—can help us cope better and recover more quickly, or at least start heading in that direction.

1. Reframe

When something bad happens do you find yourself reliving the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is called rumination; it’s like a cognitive spinning of the wheels digging us deeper into a rut.

Reframe the event by painting it with love:

  • See beyond the person or the obvious event and understand what may have been the cause

  • Find 3 positive things about the event e.g. the argument gave you the opportunity to discover how the other person felt; losing the job can teach you budgeting skills you never had before; life-threatening illness allows you time to slow down and discover what's really important

  • When the negative thoughts appear again, replace them with your new positive interpretations

  • Bonus tip: write it down. Use expressive writing to identify the event and literally re-write the narrative with your positives

2. Face the fear

We can build our resilience to everyday fears by tackling the emotions head-on. I'm talking about the fears that get in the way of life, such as the fear of heights, dentists or flying can be overcome.

Reframing is a good starting point, but not enough to truly overcome the distress of these scary situations.

  • Identify the fear, try to understand where the fear came from, and what feelings or physical responses to we experience 

  • In small doses, repeatedly expose yourself to the thing that scares you. For example, someone who shall remain nameless may have had a distressing fear of dentists as a result of a childhood experience. The physical responses were overwhelming dread, nausea, shallow breathing and generic anxiety responses. More frequent visits, detailed conversations about the equipment and process and the commitment to long term health helped overcome this fear. 

  • After each exposure reinforce the safe or 'good' outcome and create a positive thinking loop e.g. I didn't die, I am safe, I am excited to see the dentist next week

3. Self-compassion

This involves being compassionate to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. 

If being kind to yourself is a challenge, step outside of yourself and consider how you would treat friend in the same situation. How would you respond to your friend's struggles?  Often, this comparison unearths some surprising differences and valuable reflections: Why am I so harsh on myself, and what would happen if I weren’t?

Any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress try these three steps:

  • Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”

  • Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We all feel this way” or “We all struggle in our lives.”

  • Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be patient.”


4. Mindful meditation

Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. That way, instead of getting carried away into fear, anger, or despair, we can work through them more deliberately.

My favourite meditation is the one my mum taught me when I was a teenager to deal with stress at home - the Body Scan. This is where you focus on each body part, relaxing each muscle from toes right through to the top of your head,  letting go of any areas of tension you discover. Strong feelings tend to manifest physically, as tight chests or knotted stomachs, and relaxing the body is one way to begin dislodging them.

Mindful Breathing is the other essential mini-meditation we all need in our resilience toolkit. Anyone with a smartwatch has a guide strapped to their wrist. or go old school and self manage the process. It involves bringing attention to the physical sensations of the breath: the air moving through the nostrils, the expansion of the chest, the rise and fall of the stomach. If the mind wanders away, you bring attention back. This can be done during a full 15-minute meditation, or during a moment of stress with just a few breaths.

5. Forgiveness

Cultivating forgiveness is beneficial to your mental and physical health. Begin by:

  • Clearly acknowledging what happened, including how it feels and how it’s affecting your life right now

  • Make a commitment to forgive, which means letting go of resentment and ill will for your own sake; forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender off the hook or even reconciling with them

  • Every time the pain wells up, or you are reminded of the hurt paint the situation in love, spend a few minutes generating feelings of compassion toward your offender; they are a human being who makes mistakes; they also have room for growth and healing. Be mindfully aware of your thoughts and feelings during this process, and notice any areas of resistance.

  • Look for the opportunity, or positive growth in the experience. Maybe overcoming this grudge or hurt allows you to understand other people’s suffering better.

Resilience is not some magical quality; it takes real mental work to transcend hardship. These 5 strategies for building resilience take time and practice, like a rainy-day fund for the mind, that will help keep you afloat when times get tough. Just knowing that you’ve built up your skills of resilience can be a great comfort, and even a happiness booster.

Linda Ferrari | Women's Personal Coach

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